11 Healthiest, Most Flavorful Spices
Are you experiencing taste bud overload?
This condition occurs when you eat too much junk food which is so addictively delicious due to massive amounts of three ingredients: fat, salt, and sugar. Without them, junk food tastes like cardboard.
Big food companies know this and have been producing lab tested combinations of these three magical ingredients to keep you buying and, sadly, getting fatter[i].
Compounding the problem is the fact that your taste buds become desensitized to delicate nuances of flavor when you consume a lot of factory-produced junk. The result: real food tastes bland, and you crave junk food that much more.
But there’s good news. By taking a break from processed junk and strategically adding a few healthy spices to your food, you can make real food taste a lot better and recondition to your taste buds to savor it once more. Even better: These herbs and spices have a wide range of health benefits from relieving inflammation to fighting oxidation and more.
Using herbs and spices to flavor your food has several benefits.
1) You’ll consume less salt. It will be easier for you to stay within the recommended 1,500 milligrams of daily salt intake. This means you’ll be lowering your risk of high blood pressure[ii].
2) You’ll lose weight. Spicy food makes you feel satiated even if you’ve only eaten a small serving. Spicy food can also help burn more calories faster[iii].
3) You’ll protect your heart. Spices fight inflammation and are good antioxidants[iv]. By adding spices to your food, you’ll reduce your risk of heart disease[v] and other diseases such as cancer[vi] and diabetes[vii].
So without further ado, here are 11 of the healthiest and most flavorful herbs and spices you can use to add zing to your cooking.
Oregano contains lots of antifungal and antibacterial properties making it a great weapon against food-borne diseases. It can also prevent you from contracting antibiotic-resistant infections[viii]. It is effective against vaginitis, oral thrush, and other yeast-based infections[ix]. One teaspoon of oregano also contains 6 micrograms of vitamin K and lots of antioxidants[x]. It also has properties that help to protect against stomach flu[xi]. Research has also found that oregano contains compounds that diminish inflammation in the body[xii].
Oregano is a very versatile spice and can be added to a lot of dishes. Freshly-grown oregano can be used as an ingredient for pesto sauces. You can also add the spice as a topping to pasta and chicken dishes. Another way to use it is to rub it on red meat and chicken before cooking. Sprinkle it on pizzas and salads or mix it with lemon juice and use as a dressing for fish and poultry dishes[xiii].
Cinnamon has a sweet, hot, and woody flavor and is often used for bread, pastries, and other baked goods, but its uses are in no way limited to just that. It can also be added to many breakfast items, including oatmeal and yogurt. You can even add it to your coffee or sprinkle it over nuts for that added boost of flavor. If you want to get more creative, you can mix apples and cinnamon into a breakfast risotto, or add some cinnamon into homemade pumpkin butter.
Cinnamon is great because it can satisfy your cravings for sweet treats, but with almost none of the calories and fat[xiv].
However, the benefits of cinnamon are not just limited to flavor. For example, a single tablespoon of this spice can contain up to 4 grams of fiber. Cinnamon also has one of the highest levels of antioxidants among all the spices, so regular intake of this particular spice can provide your cells with protection from oxidative damage[xv].
It can also promote oral health and reduce pain in the joints that is characteristic of arthritis[xvi].
Cinnamon naturally contains polyphenols, which are compounds that work to decrease sugar levels in the blood. As such, it is great for managing insulin and is extremely beneficial, especially for diabetics and pre-diabetics. Researchers believe that as little as half a teaspoon of cinnamon daily for six weeks can help lessen the risk of contracting diabetes. It even lessens cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the body, improving cardiovascular health and clearing out arteries[xvii].
This spice is also an effective anti-flatulent and is great for improving abdominal circulation. It can prevent, treat, and improve abdominal pains and problems, including constipation and cramps[xviii].
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is rich in calcium, iron, and vitamin B6[xix].
It can improve immunity by reducing inflammation in the body because of its high antioxidant and rosmarinic acid content[xx].
Rosemary can also encourage acetylcholine production in the body, which can greatly improve memory and learning[xxi].
Rosemary is great for cooking savory dishes, such as baked chicken and roasted vegetables and potatoes. Tuck a few sprigs into your chicken or sprinkle the dried variety on top of your food before cooking them so the fragrant flavors can seep in and mix with the natural juices.
Nutmeg is a popular spice that has been used since ancient times because of its medical and healing abilities. It has an incredible soothing effect and is a great relaxant; in fact, studies have shown that its extracts may actually have significant anti-depressant properties[xxii].
Nutmeg also lessens the risk for inflammation, hindering the growth of several kinds of possible cancer-causing tumors. These anti-inflammatory properties can also reduce the appearance of blemishes on the skin when the spice is applied directly on the body[xxiii].
This spice also has some antibacterial properties, which means that it works well to ward off fungi and bacteria[xxiv].
It also contains lots of fiber and can even prevent the formation of dental cavities[xxv].
The warm and spicy yet sweet and nutty flavor of this spice make it a great ingredient for many dishes. It can be used in cakes, pies, cookies, custards, puddings, and even smoothies, which also means that you can lessen the amount of sugar and fat because of the strong flavor that is already imparted by the nutmeg. You can even use this spice for savory dishes, such as vegetable quiche, spinach, and various sauces. As an added touch, it can also be sprinkled on drinks like eggnog or your morning coffee.
Curry has been found to be beneficial to cognitive function. According to research, this Indian spice can also help in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, as well as some kinds of cancer. One or two teaspoons of this can go a long way, and can be added to roasted and sautéed vegetables, chicken, and tofu, among many other dishes[xxvi].
Cumin has been in use for a long time, often taken as treatment for hypertensive conditions, indigestion, and several sleeping disorders. It has been proven to work well in maintaining proper levels of sugar in the blood, and reducing and preventing the risk of diabetes. Its germ-combating abilities also make it effective in fighting stomach conditions like ulcers. Cumin is very rich in calcium and magnesium, and can provide up to 22 percent of the recommended daily allowance for iron[xxvii].
Cumin has a very peppery and nutty taste and comes in the form of either whole seeds, or ground as a powder. It can be used in a variety of ways, from a chicken rub to popcorn toppings. It lends a great flavor to stews and soups, sauces, beans, and tacos, as well. In order to get the most out of the spice’s flavor, make sure to use seeds that are freshly ground.
7. Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper gets its flavor from an active compound called capsaicin, which has quite a lot of medicinal properties. It is rich in vitamin A[xxviii] and can combat body inflammation, as well as improve overall circulation[xxix].
Cayenne pepper also has lots of benefits when it comes to digestion. It has been known to increase the body’s oxidation of fat, allowing it to use the fat as fuel for the body’s activities. By heightening metabolism, the capsaicin in pepper allows the body to burn more calories. The heat and spicy flavor also reduces cravings for salty and fatty food, also preventing you from overindulging. Because of this, cayenne pepper is said to aid in weight loss management and appetite control. Research has revealed that ingesting cayenne pepper as a spice in meals is more effective for weight control than taking them as supplements containing capsaicin[xxx].
Cayenne pepper has a hot and smoky taste, making it great for chili dishes and as a seasoning for fish, vegetables, and eggs, among others. A little goes a long way, so make sure not to use too much in case you overpower the rest of your meal.
Turmeric is a traditional Indian spice that has been used for its medicinal purposes for thousands of years. A yellow-orange spice, turmeric contains an active component called curcumin, which contains high levels of antioxidants that can diminish body inflammation. It can provide relief from redness, swelling, and pain from inflammatory conditions[xxxi].
Researchers have also suggested that the curcumin in turmeric has properties that may enhance the successfulness of cancer chemotherapy, thus giving it the potential to be an effective medical drug for chemotherapy procedures[xxxii].
Other researchers have found that turmeric can also be a good combatant for depression and might even be more effective than most commercially available antidepressant drugs on the market. This healthy spice has the potential to treat and cure patients who suffer from major depressive disorders[xxxiii].
Turmeric can also be an effective tool for weight loss. It works by providing your body with a supply of enzymes that stop it from continuing with fat storage. This is a great technique to know and can provide you with extra help if you want to maintain your current weight[xxxiv].
Several more studies suggest turmeric’s active compound curcumin is a great pain reliever[xxxv] and can also aid a lot with digestion and digestive issues[xxxvi]. It provides good protection against the harmful effects of food pesticides[xxxvii], and is also a preventive measure against muscle loss[xxxviii], especially when dieting.
Other uses of this versatile spice include treatment for liver complications and disease, skin problems, heartburn, and even arthritis. It can also help treat infections of the bladder and lower cholesterol levels. Studies have also suggested that turmeric may have properties that can slow down the development of Alzheimer’s disease[xxxix].
Besides having a lot of great health benefits, turmeric can also be used to add an earthy and slightly bitter flavor to many dishes. Mix it with olive oil, chopped onion, eggplant, and zucchini to make a delicious vegetarian dish or add a little bit to your rice, soups, stews, and curries while they cook. Use it as a spice for cheesy cauliflower bake to further boost the cancer-fighting properties that cauliflower already has. You can also add it to lamb and poultry dishes, or if you’re in the mood for something a little out of the box, mix it with raspberries to make a healthy smoothie.
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Dark red in color, this spice can be used as a cure for coughs and asthma attacks[xl]. It is often used in Persia as traditional medication for pre-menstrual syndrome and can also ease the symptoms of mild to moderate depression[xli]. Previous studies have shown that regular intake of saffron supplements for only six weeks significantly decreased symptoms in patients with depression[xlii]. Aside from this, saffron has also been proven to be a good aphrodisiac and has the ability to boost sexual function[xliii].
Use this spice to add a slightly bitter yet mildly sweet flavor to your dishes, especially Indian, African, and Spanish cuisine. It’s perfect for rice dishes like paella and risotto and can also be used to infuse flavor in vegetable stews.
Garlic makes an easy addition to almost any pasta or salad dish, and can even be used as an easy way to add more flavor to meat and poultry. Though it may have a strong pungent odor, the taste and health benefits it can offer far outweigh this small setback.
For one, this spice is an excellent anti-clotting agent and can also help to significantly decrease the body’s cholesterol and blood pressure. Consequently, this diminishes your risk of developing heart ailments or having a stroke[xliv].
Its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-viral properties also help protect against infections. Studies and lab tests have found that the juice from garlic cloves can hamper the growth and development of microorganisms[xlv].
Garlic also has properties that can prevent the growth and development of cancer cells in the body[xlvi]. Thus, regular consumption of this spice can greatly reduce the chances of developing cancer of the stomach or the colon.
Other benefits of garlic include combating the common cold[xlvii].
Ginger is another spice that has numerous health benefits. It has been known to decrease inflammation in the body, as well as combat Alzheimer’s disease, certain heart ailments, and even some kinds of cancer, most notably of the prostate gland. Ginger has also been effectively used as a painkiller. Digestive problems like diarrhea and stomach aches can similarly be treated with this spice, which also works as an anti-flatulent. In addition, it is known to have properties that can increase circulation, decreasing the chances of circulatory and menstrual illnesses. It can also be used as a medication for arthritis, sore throat, nausea, and migraines. Ginger can even be a kind of treatment for chemotherapy, motion sickness, or illnesses related to pregnancy[xlviii].
The sweet and savory flavor of ginger would be great in vegetable and chicken noodle soups. It would also be a nice touch to a warm cup of your favorite tea. Mix it with some chicken and beef to make a spicy stir-fry, or even make some ginger cookies for dessert as a special treat.
How to Make the Most out of Herbs and Spices[xlix]
Even minute portions of spices added to your food can bring you lots of health benefits, and as little as 1 1/2 teaspoons can make a big difference. It’s best to use spices when they’re at their peak so you can maximize their benefits – although they don’t actually expire, the active compounds contained in these spices can lose their potency over time. If you’re using fresh spices, use them in twice the normal amount to get the equivalent of the active compounds in the dried variants.
Store your spices in a cool, dry place away from moisture, sunlight, and heat in order to preserve their quality. Always pour spices into your hand before sprinkling them on your food, because shaking the entire container over a hot dish or pot can cause the contents to cake up. Remember to keep the lid in place at all times to prevent moisture from seeping in. Find suitable containers for your spices, such as small mason jars, racks installed in drawers, and corked tubes.
Make sure that your spices are always newly-bought and keep track of when you buy them so you’ll know when replacements are due. As they age, spices lose more and more of their flavor. Whole seeds usually lose their potency after about four years, and ground varieties can last up to three. If your spices’ colors start to dull, it’s probably time to buy a new batch.
There are lots of spices available in the market that can give flavor to your meals and provide you with added health benefits.
Maximizing Spice Health Benefits
Whole-food antioxidants, including Ginger, Turmeric, Green Tea and Rosemary, help quench free radicals and support healthy aging. Rockwell Nutrition offers the following supplements to boost your spice intake:
- Cinnamon Powder 1 lb by Banyan Botanicals 1 lb USD $12.95
- Ginger Powder 1 lb by Banyan Botanicals 1 lb USD $19.95
- Fennel Seed (whole) 1 lb by Banyan Botanicals 1 lb USD $14.95
- Fennel seed powder 1 lb by Banyan Botanicals 1 lb USD $15.95
- Turmeric Powder 1 lb by Banyan Botanicals 1 lb USD $17.95
- Zyflamend Whole Body 30 softgels by New Chapter 30 softgels USD $24.95
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[xvii] Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People with Type-2 Diabetes, Alam Khan, MS, PhD, Mahpara Safdar, MS, Mohammad Muzaffar Ali Khan, MS, PhD, Khan Nawaz Khattak, MS and Richard A. Anderson, PhD, Diabetes Care, Published December 2003, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
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[xxi] Rosmarinus officinalis L. leaf extract improves memory impairment and affects acetylcholinesterase and butyrylcholinesterase activities in rat brain, Ozarowski M1, Mikolajczak PL, Bogacz A, Gryszczynska A, Kujawska M, Jodynis-Liebert J, Piasecka A, Napieczynska H, Szulc M, Kujawski R, Bartkowiak-Wieczorek J, Cichocka J, Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska T, Czerny B, Mrozikiewicz PM, Fitoterapia, Published December 2013, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxii] Antidepressant-like activity of n-hexane extract of nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) seeds in mice, Dhingra D., Sharma A., Journal of Medicinal Food, Published Spring 2006, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxiii] Evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of some Swedish medicinal plants. Inhibition of prostaglandin biosynthesis and PAF-induced exocytosis, H. Tunón, C. Olavsdotter, L. Bohlin, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Published October 1995, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
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[xxv] Anticariogenic activity of macelignan isolated from Myristica fragrans (nutmeg) against Streptococcus mutans, J.Y. Chung, J.H. Choo, M.H. Lee, J.K. Hwanga, Phytomedicine, Published March 13, 2006, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxxi] Cytotoxicity, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of Curcumins I–III from Curcuma longa, R.S. Ramsewak, D.L. DeWitt, M.G. Nair, Phytomedicine, Published July 2000, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxxii] Adjuvant Therapy with Bioavailability-Boosted Curcuminoids Suppresses Systemic Inflammation and Improves Quality of Life in Patients with Solid Tumors: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial, Yunes Panahi, Alireza Saadat, Fatemeh Beiraghdar and Amirhossein Sahebkar, Phytotherapy Research, Published March 19, 2014, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxxiv] New mechanisms and the anti-inflammatory role of curcumin in obesity and obesity-related metabolic diseases, Shehzad A, Ha T, Subhan F, Lee YS, European Journal of Nutrition, Published April 2011, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxxv] Curcumin Relieves Pain and Inflammation for Osteoarthritis Patients, mercola.com, Published January 31, 2011, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxxvi] Therapeutic potential of curcumin in digestive diseases, Pietro Dulbecco and Vincenzo Savarino, World of Gastroenterology, Published December 28, 2013, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxxvii] The inhibition of the estrogenic effects of pesticides and environmental chemicals by curcumin and isoflavonoids, Verma SP, Goldin BR, Lin PS, Environmental Health Perspectives, Published December 1998, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xxxviii] Curcumin and Muscle Wasting – A New Role for an Old Drug?, Nima Alamdari, Patrick O’Neal, and Per-Olof Hasselgren, Nutrition, Published November 2009, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xli] Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: a double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial, Agha-Hosseini M, Kashani L, Aleyaseen A, Ghoreishi A, Rahmanpour H, Zarrinara AR, Akhondzadeh S, Published March 2008, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xlii] Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, Hausenblas HA, Saha D, Dubyak PJ, Anton SD, Journal of Integrated Medicine, Published November 2013, Retrieved May 9, 2015.
[xliii] Saffron and ginseng ‘shown to boost sexual desire’, The Telegraph, Retrieved May 9, 2015.